The Story of Siðmennt and its Impact on Icelandic society

Hope KnútssonSiðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association is a registered life stance organization. The association represents Humanism and Freethought, is independent of religious creeds and is guided by ethics and reason. The  organization offers secular and humanist ceremonies.

The group that organized the first civil confirmation in Iceland during the winter of 1988-1989 founded Siðmennt a year later, in February 1990 to ensure that this alternative to religious confirmation would continue to be available in Iceland. Its goal from the start was to provide secular ceremonies at all of the important transition points in life.

In 2007, our sister association in Norway, Human – Etisk Forbund sent a teacher to train the first group of Icelandic secular celebrants, and since 2008 we have offered secular and humanist baby-naming ceremonies, marriages, and funerals. At the time of this writing, (early October 2013) Siðmennt has conducted a total of more than 160 such ceremonies. In May, Siðmennt became a registered life stance organization and as a result our wedding ceremonies became legal. Since May , the number of Siðmennt weddings has tripled. Around 2000 Icelanders have been secularly confirmed over the past 25 years. More than 200 children choose our secular confirmation each year now. The association holds 7- 8 confirmation classes and 6 – 7 confirmation ceremonies in various parts of the country every year.

The existence of Siðmennt has had many positive effects on Icelandic society . For example:

  • Siðmennt introduced Icelanders to the word life stance organization which is now widely used .
  • Siðmennt has enriched Icelandic society by offering people alternative ceremonies at the important transition points in life such as baby namings, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. Having alternatives helps people think about their values and philosophy of life.
  • Siðmennt has held lectures, seminars, and conferences and brought famous speakers to Iceland such as Richard Dawkins, James Randi , PZ Myers, Maryam Namazie, Dan Barker, Julia Sweeney, and Brannon Braga .
  • Siðmennt published the first book in Icelandic about Humanism (in partnership with Ormstungu ).
  • Siðmenntl has worked towards full freedom of religion/conscience, separation of church and state, and an education system where children are not discriminated against because of their parents’ religion or life stance.
  • Siðmennt gives two annual awards:  Húmanist of the Year and The Siðmennt Education and Science Award.
  • Siðmennt supports the human rights of minorities, such as gay and transgender people.
  • Siðmennt provides a secular alternative to the Lutheran mass which the state church holds for Members of Parliament at the opening session of Parliament.
  • Siðmennt supports human dignity, human rights and a broad-minded diverse secular society.

Hope Knútsson
The author is a founder and chairman of Siðmennt